The worldwide fight against public and private sector corruption will never succeed unless international interests stop “cherry picking” problem areas based on perception, Premier Alden McLaughlin told a London-based think tank Tuesday.
“The point of the global [anti-corruption] initiatives is not to eradicate corruption in 98 countries and jurisdictions,” Mr. McLaughlin said at a conference at Chatham House, an independent policy institute based in London. “It is to eradicate corruption in all of them.”
Mr. McLaughlin delivered one of two keynote addresses during the conference on corruption Monday and Tuesday, billed as “Combatting Global Corruption: Shared Standards and Common Practice.”
The conference explored potential ways to tackle global corruption and consider the role of governments and businesses in doing so. Participants and speakers will assess international efforts and consider their consequences for future business practices and governance.
The premier also participated in a five-minute question and answer session after delivering the speech, but according to Chatham House rules, the identities of the participants were not revealed.
“It’s rare that a leader of a U.K. [Overseas] Territory has the opportunity to address anti-corruption initiatives from a global perspective,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Mr. McLaughlin told attendees Tuesday that as long as there is a narrow focus in the global corruption fight, criminals will simply “migrate to where there is less sunshine.”
“What impact will recent transparency initiatives e.g., from the Group of Eight [countries], have in practice? I say not near enough, if they are not globally developed, practiced and monitored.
“Corruption must be repositioned as a global problem. We cannot cherry pick countries to assess based on perception and target them as the source of the problem while allowing other countries to continue their practices with minimal scrutiny.”
Mr. McLaughlin’s comments echoed those made last year at the University College of the Cayman Islands by U.S. federal corruption investigator Jack Blum.
Sovereign bureaucracies, Mr. Blum said, were one of the major hindrances in the global corruption fight.
Mr. Blum said it was one of the reasons why – since the international financial crisis of 2008-2009 – virtually no one had been prosecuted. A number of companies have paid hefty fines in exchange for no admission of guilt and no personal criminal charges against anyone.
“It’s too difficult to get your hands on the evidence, the evidence is in too many different places and there’s no way you can compel testimony [across international borders],” Mr. Blum said. “We can’t run a global financial system without a level of police cooperation and regulatory cooperation that makes the system clean and protects against crime and fraud.”
Mr. Blum said to accomplish this, new ideas must be explored.
“Where legal systems are similar, police and prosecutors should be able to work across international boundaries,” he said. “I think any qualified lawyer from Cayman should be able to go to a U.S. court and get a search warrant. Currently, that’s an impossibility.”
Mr. Blum refers to it as “interoperability,” or making people functional without depending on their geography.
Chatham House is not a noted supporter of offshore financial centers. One Chatham associate, Nick Shaxson, wrote “Treasure Islands,” a book about Cayman and other jurisdictions he termed “offshore tax havens.”
Cayman Islands Attorney General Sam Bulgin said last week that the British Overseas Territory is suffering from “review fatigue,” having been examined over the past decade by a number of international agencies, including the Financial Action Task Force and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, among others.
Mr. McLaughlin concurred in his address to Chatham House.
“We have been subjected to the most rigorous examinations, and signed up for others, and consistently we have been found to be in compliance – in some areas, more so than developed countries,” the premier said. “And yet, we have watched with curiosity and sometimes extreme frustration because, no matter the outcome of these assessments, the negative perception of Cayman persists, and is promulgated by some who do know better.
“I will leave it to you [referring to the Chatham House audience] to determine why other countries, until recently, have managed to escape the level of investigation that we have had.”